Without too much debate, bagging a mature whitetail buck with a bow remains one of bowhunting’s toughest challenges. However, those who have not yet joined the club tend to overlook one of the primary requirements: You have to be hunting where mature bucks live to score!
Sure, plenty of mature bucks thrive on public lands, but if you really want to increase your odds, your goal should be to ferret out some lightly hunted private tracts—places where older, wiser deer feel safe and secure.
Don’t have the deep pockets required to buy a private honey hole of your own? Burned out your welcome at your buddy’s place? Don’t panic. Recently, I sat down with two greater Minnesota big-buck gurus, guys who make a habit out of arrowing big deer on private tracts scattered around the suburban Minneapolis/St. Paul metro. Mark Herr, 52, and son Kyle, 32, know one of their biggest keys to success is their uncanny ability to obtain permission to hunt prime private tracts. Here are a few of their hard-won tips.
Wear Your Ego on Your Shoulder
Talk with this affable duo for even a short while and you begin to realize a few things, one being that they are soft spoken, and humble to a fault. The Herrs also come across as trustworthy and imminently likable, and they’re plain easy to talk to. Add these qualities up and you have some potent land-access skills!
Get Out And Burn Some Gas
The Herrs like to use topo maps to pinpoint areas that likely hold the type of security cover big bucks crave, but at that point, they know their work has just begun.
“It really starts by knocking on a lot of doors, and sometimes you’ll get lucky and the landowner will tip you off to the presence of big deer—but that would be unusual,” Mark says. “Usually, a landowner will tell you they’ve never seen a big buck; but your first camera check might show the property holds several.”
Photos Can Break The Ice
On some tracts, it can be rather obvious a particular parcel holds an abundance of deer, even to the non-hunting landowner. And the Herrs know that some of these same landowners are continually pestered for hunting access. In such cases, the Herrs might gain trust by first asking permission to simply hang a few game cameras on the property, in the hopes of capturing a few deer images. If this “test” reveals the presence of one or several big bucks, the Herrs’ next conversation will be a lot more pointed.
Networking is Huge
“I talk to UPS drivers, police officers, the highway patrol—people who are in their vehicles at night a lot,” Mark says. “And really, I’m going to broach the subject with virtually any person who crosses my path. I’m always asking, ‘Do you hunt?’, ‘Have you seen any big deer in the area?’It’s just about making this kind of networking part of your life.”
We’re Hunting—Not Exterminating
“Usually when we talk to the landowner, we explain that we’re specifically targeting a trophy buck, that we won’t be shooting does,” Mark says, explaining that some landowners who have no concept of hunting need to know the pair won’t be walking in and shooting every deer they encounter. “And in a lot of cases it’s also helpful to mention that we’re bowhunters. Even landowners who gun hunt, I don’t think they realize how lethal bowhunters are; some give you permission and you can tell they think [it’s kind of amusing].”
Don’t Forget to Name-Drop
“We know a lot of people in the area, and it’s always helpful in your discussions with a landowner to piece together a connection with people they might know,” Mark says. “We got permission on one killer farm and got to know the landowner, and it turned out he had several relatives in the area. So we ended up getting permission on three more very good farms.”
Working For it—Literally
In unusual circumstances, Mark and Kyle will resort to leasing a property, but an offer of some manual labor can go a long way toward obtaining permission, and keeping a property long-term.
“We’ve helped with farm work, bailing hay, and some other typical projects. And what’s funny is, none of the farmers has ever asked us for help, but we volunteer. Sometimes you do something nice and it lasts a long time.”
Know And Abide by The Rules
As the Herrs explain, to keep permission on a property it’s also important to abide by the landowner’s rules. And that can run the gamut from where to park, to even, when to be there.
“Some landowners don’t want us trimming branches, screwing-in tree steps, or leaving gut piles. And most are very specific as to the number of people who can be in there. We almost never leave a gut pile; we’re always bringing a big deer out whole, so the area doesn’t attract coyotes or other animals.”
“One of the most memorable properties we’ve secured came after asking the landowner for access for eight consecutive years. Eight!,” Mark remembered. “But by that 8th year, we’d developed a friendship, and I simply pointed out that I see car-hit deer lying dead on the road along the property all the time. Then I asked how three or four deer going to waste per year was acceptable, while letting us take one or two bucks was not? He needed to know we weren’t going to go in there and kill every deer we saw. We’ve been hunting the property ever since, and have since taken two monsters there.”
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